08 Jun

Grapes and olives make for thriving farm

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Olive orchards and vineyards go hand in hand.

At least, the idea seems to be working for Steve and Marguerite Remde, who grow olives and grapes for their business, Belle Farms.

Established in 1997, Belle Farms consists of 7 acres of olive trees and 61/2 acres of pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and syrah grapes.

Supplied exclusively to Hallcrest Vineyards in Felton, the grapes are grown at two locations outside Watsonville city limits — on Smith Road near the Spring Hills Golf Course and on the Remdes’ own property

The olive orchards — consisting of mainly Tuscan varieties with a few Spanish, Greek and French-imported trees — are grown at Smith Road.

Belle Farms’ first commercial release of their extra-virgin Santa Cruz County olive oil came in 2005. They milled 176 gallons and sold it all.

For Steve, who was born and raised in Watsonville, deciding to plant both grapes and olives seemed like a natural progression.

A 1983 Watsonville High graduate, Steve spent a lot of time on farms when he was growing up.

In addition to his duties of growing the grapes and olives for Belle Farms, Steve, 42, works full-time as a spinach program supervisor for Dobler & Sons LLC, the Pajaro and Salinas Valley-based vegetable grower and packer.

He also helps with his father Frank’s business, Veranda Vineyards, which consists of 5 acres of pinot noir grapes grown near Belle Farms.

“I always wanted orchards,” said Steve, who earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business from Chico State University in 1993. “I was looking to have an apple orchard … but you look at the cost to what it takes to maintain it.

“Olive trees just looked like more of an opportunity — fewer people were doing it. There were just more plusses with olive trees.”

Leccino, Frantoio, Maurino, Penddolino and Moraiolo are the Tuscan varieties of olives included in Belle Farms’ harvest blend.

On a recent tour, Marguerite, 37, pointed out the trees were just beginning to flower, after which the fruit would begin forming.

Married for 12 years with three children — Garrett, 9, Myles, 7, and Audrey, 5 — the Remdes harvest their olives from as early as October to as late as January.

“Depending on the style of oil you want to make is what determines when you harvest,” said Marguerite, who grew up in Los Gatos and majored in economics and French at St Mary’s College. “Olives start off green, and then when they ripen they turn green and purple, and then they turn black.

“The greener the olive, the more bitter the oil. We’re typically looking for a 50-50 ratio between green and black.”

Immediately after harvest, the Remdes take their olives to Modesto to be custom-pressed by olive oil producer Nick Sciabica & Sons.

The oil is sold at a number of places in the area, with Marguerite running the Belle Farms stand most Saturdays at the Aptos Farmers Market.

The Vignette, a home and garden decor store in Watsonville, also sells the oil. Owner Cynthia Newberry said she’s having a hard time keeping the product on the shelves.

“I love it, and I don’t especially like olive oil — but I love the taste of this,” Newberry said. “It sells very well. I’m almost sold out of it.

“Ninety percent of my customers that purchase it buy it for a gift. Either for someone visiting from out of town so that they can take a little bit of Watsonville home with them, or it’s a gift for someone who lives in the area who doesn’t even know about Belle Farms.”

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